Japan’s largest warship since World War II has just entered service. Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) took delivery on Wednesday of the Izumo, a helicopter carrier “as big as the Imperial Navy aircraft carriers that battled the United States in the Pacific.”

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The Izumo was indigenously constructed at a shipyard in Yokohama, near Tokyo, at a cost of around $1.5 billion. It is named after the former Izumo province in western Honshu. In Japanese mythology, the entrance to yomi (hell) is located in Izumo.

The Izumo has a crew of 470, and with a standard displacement of 19,500 tones (24,000 tonnes at full load, according to military publication Jane’s), it is as large as the storied Yamato-class battleships which fought U.S. naval forces in the Pacific theater of World War II.

The Izumo class is a new type of helicopter carriers, being built for the Japanese Marine Self-Defense Forces. Two ships of the class are planned. The new ships will replace ageing Shirane class ASW destroyers. The lead ship Izumo was launched in 2013. It is the biggest Japanese warship since the World War II. It is even larger than the previous Hyuga class helicopter carriers.

The Izumo class helicopter carriers are multi-role ships. These can conduct amphibious operations, anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare. It would aid in the detection of sophisticated Chinese submarines. This class will provide the Maritime Self-Defense Force with greater force projection capability.

Izumo is equipped with an OQQ-22 bow-mounted sonar for submarine prosecution while air defence is provided by two Raytheon RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile SeaRAM launchers and two Phalanx close-in weapon systems.

While optimised for anti-submarine warfare – it can embark Sikorsky/Mitsubishi SH-60K Seahawk anti-submarine warfare helicopters and the Izumo class’s air wing will also include two airborne mine countermeasures versions of the Kawasaki Heavy Industries/AgustaWestland MCH-101 helicopter – JMSDF officials claim that the ship will be deployed mainly for border surveillance and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.

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Some analysts have speculated the Izumo could be adapted to carry F-35B (STOVL) and V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, but so far official Japanese authorities have not addressed these speculations. A similar platform designed to operate those aircraft is twice as large as the Izumo – American LHA-6 – USS America – has recently been commissioned with the US Navy.

The commissioning of the Izumo comes amid heightened tensions between Japan and its neighbors China and South Korea. In July. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe allowed for a reinterpreting of Japan’s constitution, paving the way for more active military engagement overseas.

Japan, along with the Philippines and Vietnam, is engaged in territorial disputes with China over the sovereignty of islands in the South China Sea, and Kazuhisa Ogawa, a defense analyst at the Strategic Research Institute of International Change in Japan, says that, in combination with Japan’s other helicopter carriers, the Izumo could be used to “regain remote islets that can be a big hell and a nightmare to China.”

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